Home News Local News Anderson splits with other local reps on abortion law repeal

Anderson splits with other local reps on abortion law repeal

State Rep. Phelps Anderson, DTS-Roswell, speaks to attendees at a Nov. 2019 meeting of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women. Anderson on Friday voted with 39 House Democrats for Senate Bill 10 (SB 10), which repeals a dormant 1969 law that criminalizes most abortions in New Mexico. All other local legislators voted against the measure. (Daily Record File Photo)

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Legislation to repeal a 52-year-old dormant law that criminalizes most abortions has passed the New Mexico House of Representatives in a 40-30 vote, garnering the support of state Rep. Phelps Anderson, DTS-Roswell, but the opposition of all other Chaves County lawmakers.

Following hours of debate marked by heightened emotions, Senate Bill 10 (SB 10) cleared the House of Representatives Friday. All House Republicans, including local Reps. Candy Ezzell and Greg Nibert of Roswell, and House Minority Leader Jim Townsend of Artesia, voted with six Democrats against passage. The Senate had voted 27-15 to pass the bill on Feb. 11.

SB 10 removes from state law a 1969 statute that makes performing most abortions a fourth degree felony. Since 1973, when abortion was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, the law has been unenforceable. Proponents of SB 10 though say they worry that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, protections afforded to women in terms of access to abortion would be stripped away and the 1969 statute’s restrictions could go back into effect.

After the vote, Anderson said in a statement late Friday, that “misperceptions abound on the impact of this repeal for New Mexico.” He said the law does little more than maintain the safeguards related to abortion services women are currently afforded by the Roe v. Wade decision.

“A 1969 unconstitutional law was repealed and as a result there is no effect whatsoever on abortions in New Mexico,” he said.

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In recent weeks, Anderson has come under heavy fire from some Republicans for casting a vote in the House Health and Human Services Committee for HB 7, which like SB 10 would have repealed the statute outlawing abortion. Outcry over his vote from conservatives prompted Anderson to change his party affiliation from Republican to “Decline to State” and local and state Republican Party officials have since called on him to step down from his House District 66 seat, where he represents eastern Chaves as well as Lea and Roosevelt counties. So far, Anderson has refused to do so.

Opponents of SB 10 said they worried repealing the whole law would also remove protections in the law which keep medical professionals who are opposed to abortion on moral grounds from having to perform one. State Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, said she heard from many of those who work in the healthcare field, who have moral objections to abortion, who said that they were considering leaving the state if SB 10 becomes law.

“They don’t want to live in a state where they don’t feel respected and valued. And that respect goes to their personal convictions about the wrongfulness of abortion,” she said.

Supporters of SB 10 though said there are already existing federal and state laws in place that allow medical providers the right to opt out of performing an abortion if it conflicts with their moral beliefs.

Nibert, whose district is comprised of parts of both Chaves and Lincoln counties and who has described himself as “pro-life,” said voting against SB 10 was not a difficult decision.

He conceded that the 1969 law probably needs to be looked at and maybe modified, but SB 10 would have repealed the statute completely.

“And so for me it was an easy vote that we continue to have a law on the books that prohibits abortion, even though as proponents (of SB 10) point out it is unenforceable for the most part, in light of Roe v. Wade,” he said.

Nibert added he believes the fears of SB 10 supporters that Roe v. Wade will be overturned or significantly altered are overblown, and that any legal challenges taken up by the court will involve late-term abortions.

“For the most part, the Supreme Court in my opinion is not going to want to venture into these decisions,” he said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext, 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.